Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Beer travels: News & notes from the 2013 Great American Beer Festival

Image credit: Brewers Association
Having attended the Great American Beer Festival (GABF) three years running, it seems clear that the craft beer boom shows no signs of waning. Tickets numbering 49,000 sold out in a mere 20 minutes, and the number of brewers entering the competition was greater than ever before. A total of 4809 entries from 732 breweries were judged, resulting in 252 medals being awarded overall. Ten of these went to breweries from Texas (summarized at the bottom of the page), with local brewers Community and Cedar Creek bringing home gold medals for their ESB and Belgian-style Dubbel respectively.

In terms of trends, American-style IPAs and Imperial IPAs continue to be among the leaders in number of entries, along with wood and barrel-aged brews. Herb and spice beers were also near the top of the list, though this category actually saw a reduction in entries compared to a year ago. If there was one surprise, sour categories didn't experience a great deal of growth despite their obvious popularity. The latter evidenced by an abundance of traffic at brewery booths offering a walk on the wild side.

Another interesting side note was the sheer number of beers I tried featuring Colorado-grown barley and hops, not to mention a few which included (among other things) locally harvested juniper boughs and spruce tips. Here in Texas, barley and hops are obtained from outside the state, leaving water, yeast (a la Jester King) and specialty ingredients (like honey) to be our primary forms of terroir.

More news and notes:

Drinking local Denver style

A trip to the Denver Beer Company for their Collaboration Celebration was at the top of my list of things to do outside of the festival. Why? One of the featured beers was a Coffee Stout brewed in collaboration with Rahr & Sons. This brew had a nice, balanced flavor profile revealing hints of chocolate and roast, eventually finishing with a raw coffee bite.

Beer with body

Image credit: Rogue Ales
I figure that if you're going to write about beer, you have to be willing to try anything, no matter what it looks like, smells like, or what ingredients go into making it. The same thing goes for judging beer, something I'm pretty sure it says almost verbatim in the manual. Last year, a subject heading of this type would have featured Wynkoop's Rocky Mountain Oyster Stout, which turned out to be a by-the-book dry stout that just happened to be brewed with bull testicles.

This time around, the concoction in question is The Beard Beer from Rogue, a brew created with yeast extracted from Brewmaster John Maier's beard. It sounds a little out there, but the resulting beer is pretty benign. It's classified as an American Wild Ale, which seems appropriate, but its character was more earthy than funky to my taste. Basically, it's a straightforward Belgian-style pale ale. And no, I didn't get any hair stuck in my teeth.

Collaborative efforts

Rabbit Hole (on track for a November opening) recently announced they will release a beer created in association with Dallas Stars future Hall-of-Famer Mike Modano. Celebrity and athlete collaborations are still relatively new to the world of craft beer, but we've already seen some successful endeavors with Iron Maiden's Trooper Beer and the HBO/Ommegang Game of Thrones series. Curious how other, similar concepts have turned out I decided to track down MMMhops, a joint venture between the band Hanson and Oklahoma's Mustang Brewing Company, and Big Hurt Beer, brewed by the Minhas Craft Brewery in Wisconsin for former Chicago White Sox slugger Frank Thomas.

Image credit: Mustang Brewing Company, Big Hurt Beer
MMMhops comes across as a basic American-style pale ale. While it's not a bad beer, it's fairly uninspiring and I imagine more than a few people's response to it would be MMMeh. As for Big Hurt Beer, here's a product that will probably illicit a much less measured response. It's categorized as a malt liquor by both Ratebeer and Beer Advocate, which fits right in with the "imperial light lager?" comment I jotted down in my notes. What's the expression? If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all? Let's roll with that on this beer. As for Big Hurt MVP, the "premium" version of this strong lager, when I asked a volunteer what was different about it he replied through a somewhat pained expression, "Man, it MIGHT be a little sweeter." Message received, moving on.

New brew debuts

Dogfish Head American Beauty: Referred to as a counterculture collaboration with the Grateful Dead, this beer is brewed with and tastes a lot like the ingredients in a granola bar (honey, oats, grains). It's scheduled to launch at the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema in Richardson on October 22, where they'll be screening The Grateful Dead Movie.

Image credit: Dogfish Head
Shiner White Wing: A Belgian-style wheat ale brewed with coriander and orange peel, it's expected to be released later this year.

Image credit: Spoetzl Brewery
Ommegang Game of Thrones Fire and Blood Red Ale: Inspired by House Targaryen (a noble family on the show), the latest brew created in collaboration with HBO will be released in the spring of 2014. No details related to the beer itself, as only a sneak peak at the label artwork was revealed.

Image credit: Brewery Ommegang
Samuel Adams Cold Snap White Ale: The brewery's new spring seasonal (replacing Alpine Spring) was revealed at a media brunch on Friday. It will be a Belgian-style witbier brewed with spices. Look for it in the January-to-March time frame.
Image credit: Boston Beer Company
Brewery briefs

Seeing as how GABF sessions are at night, you have to find something to do with your days. As you might imagine, breweries are opening at a breakneck pace in and around Denver. What follows are thoughts on those that I visited.

Avery, Boulder- The only brewery on my itinerary that currently distributes to Texas, your impression of them might differ from the locals. While some identify them more by their Demon or Dictator Series (i.e. big beers), conversations in the taproom center around what constitutes the quintessential Avery sour.

Crooked Stave (Brian Brown)
Crooked Stave, Denver - Located outside the immediate downtown area, Crooked Stave recently moved to The Source, a sort of artisan outpost complete with restaurants, a bakery, meat market and coffee house. Elbow room can be at a premium given the small-scale digs, but the beer is worth it. Comparable to Jester King in terms of creativity and their style portfolio.

Equinox, Fort Collins - Based on the recommendation of no fewer than four industry people, I visited this hole-in-the-wall brewery and taproom off the main drag in Fort Collins. Their most interesting offering was a Finnish-style sahti called The Knotty Bough, brewed with juniper berries and fermented with a Bavarian hefeweizen yeast.

Funkwerks, Fort Collins - Located to the east of the Fort Collins city center, Funkwerks is a saison-focused brewery that may also draw comparisons to Jester King. They don't offer flights, though you can build your own by way of a series of half-size pours into what looked to be a 20 oz snifter.

Prost (Brian Brown)
Odell, Fort Collins - What was once little more than a shack when I first visited it ten years ago, Odell has expanded to the point of being a bustling beer mecca. Long-rumored to be headed to Texas, should that happen (next year at the earliest) their Mountain Standard Double Black IPA will take up permanent residence in my refrigerator.

Prost, Denver - Take away the taproom and some of the old world brewing equipment and you might swear you were visiting our own Franconia Brewing Company. Classic German styles adhering to the Reinheitsgebot are the order of the day here, some brewed on 50-year old copper kettles brought in from the old country.

Texas award winners

Black Star Co-op Pub and Brewery, Austin: Elba, Bronze for Herb and Spice Beer.

Cedar Creek Brewery, Seven Points: Belgian-Style Dubbel, Gold for Belgian-Style Abbey Ale.

Namaste Brewing at the Whip In, Austin: Bitterama, Gold for Herb and Spice Beer.

Pinthouse Pizza, Austin: Blind Jake, Bronze for Brown Porter.

Saint Arnold Brewing Company, Houston:  Summer Pils, Silver for Munich-Style Helles; Weedwacker, Bronze for German-Style Wheat Ale.

Austin Beerworks, Austin: Black Thunder, Gold for German-Style Schwarzbier.

Community Beer Company, Dallas: Public Ale, Gold for Extra Special Bitter.

Real Ale Brewing Company, Blanco: Brewers Cut Altbier, Silver for German-Style Altbier.

Jester King Brewery, Austin: Atrial Rubicite, Bronze for Belgian-Style Lambic or Sour Ale.

Cheers and congratulations to all!


  1. Looking forward to trying Sam Adams Gold Snap this spring. I'm a big fan of witbiers! Also waiting on my sample bottle of Dogfish Head's American Beauty -- hoping to sip on the '60s with that one.

  2. The new Shiner witbier (White Wing) wasn't bad, from what I remember. Didn't add much commentary on it, since I'm supposed to get samples closer to its official release. American Beauty was better than I anticipated. Being brewed with granola, I half expected it to taste like Grape Nuts.